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30 Mar 2022

What is bipolar disorder?

Over one million people in the UK have bipolar disorder. It is a common mental health condition that causes unusual changes in mood and behaviour. It is characterised by mood episodes where patients experience both lows (depression) and highs (mania).

Bipolar is classified by some psychiatrists as bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 with different balances of mood states. So people’s experience of bipolar can differ with some alternating between moods over long intervals whilst others may experience mood swings in quick succession – this is called rapid cycling.

2% of the population aged 16 and above are living with bipolar 2.

Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), 2014

Miranda, a SANE supporter, wrote about her experiences with bipolar disorder for SANE and how she felt after sharing her story on social media:


“I felt supported because people followed my posts and made comments of support. I didn’t have to lie because I was telling everyone the truth and I didn’t feel ashamed. I received messages from a few people saying they were directly inspired by these posts to tell the truth about why they had been off work or behind with something. All of them either struggle with a degree of depression or take meds for a mental health condition.”

While a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be worrying or confusing, you are not alone. Many of those who have the condition lead productive, happy and fulfilling lives. The key to coping with bipolar is early diagnosis, acceptance and adapting your lifestyle so you can control the condition as much as possible. You can also manage bipolar through medication, the right healthcare, therapy and self-management.

The SANE team are here to support anyone affected by bipolar themselves, or as a family member, friend or carer. Please visit our Emotional Support page for more information.

For further information, see Overview – Bipolar disorder from NHS.

World Bipolar Day is celebrated each year on 30 March – the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

The vision of World Bipolar Day (WBD) is to bring world awareness to bipolar disorders and to eliminate social stigma. Its goal is to highlight information about bipolar disorders that will educate and improve understanding of the illness.

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